Mention the word growth to a group of Vicars, and you will see some whose hearts sink, and some whose ears prick up.
I have certainly been at the meetings when my heart sank, mainly because it tends to revolve around a rather narrow vision of what growth means at least in the church. But beyond the dear old C of E as an institution, what might be the signs of growth amongst us.
Waistlines, yes some of us can point to growth there. The number of tablets to be taken, yes that too is probably growing for some of us. The numbers of children and grandchildren, yep more signs of growth.
But what about knowing, loving and following Jesus? How many of us would say that this is an area of growth for us? What might we say if confronted with one of those dreadful multiple-choice questions? How are things with Jesus for you?
We might not feel able to tick any boxes except, “I don’t know yet but I want to find out more”, if so I’m glad you’re here, but what of others, what would you say about the last 12 months, do you know Jesus, far less, less, about the same, more, or much more?
Well I guess for all of us, charting our relationship with Jesus is much more complicated than a simple questionnaire.
Indeed amongst us will be all kinds of reasons that make the daily following of Jesus a real challenge from a friend who is coming to the end of their life, to that niggling depression that is hard to shake, to the struggle to be reconciled to getting older, or the struggle to be a good enough parent.
I certainly have no easy answers. Yet what I do sometimes share is simply to say that faith begins and ends with JesusHopefully not in a trite way, more by sharing my experience. That through his story, in his death and resurrection, and in who he was mysterious, intriguing, charismatic, challenging and so on I find a person who begins to unlock something of this mysterious thing we call life.
So, when Paul says in the first reading ‘as you grow in the knowledge of God’, this knowledge is not some wishy-washy, pie in the sky for when you die spirituality, it is a knowledge rooted in the person of Jesus Christ.
Yet this knowledge isn’t just about what happened in the past, it is about the present about this Jesus being with them now. As they broke bread, as they shared stories, as they undertake ‘every good work.’
In the Gospel we have that memorable encounter between Mary, Martha and JesusMary sits ‘at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks.’
She is frustrated by her sister, and complains to Jesus that he doesn’t seem to care that she is doing everything, he replies ‘there is need of only one thing’.
Faced by the many challenges of life, the mysteries and the questions I often return to this text as a reminder that my faith is rooted not in the institution, or in others, or in myself and all the times I mess things up but in Jesus.
But if I am to take those words seriously, amidst my ‘many tasks’ I need to make time to sit at the Lord’s feet and listen. To know him in the breaking of the bread, and seeing the opening of my hands to receive him as an image of how I am to live, seeking to know him, in the midst of this fragile life, amongst those I am given.
Perhaps the issue for Martha wasn’t so much that things didn’t need to be done, of course they did and for us there is always stuff that needs to be done but if we are to grow as followers of Jesus there must also be time to sit at his feet and listen.
That’s why we are here of course, but following Jesus is for ‘seven whole days not one in seven’ as the priest poet George Herbert put it. For this Jesus walks with us to the waiting room, to the workplace, the train trip and the holiday.
It isn’t always easy to live this, we get so wrapped up in our own needs that we get a bit lost but when we do Jesus opens his arms to welcome us home, as we learn again that we’ve ‘need of only one thing.’
It’s also hard to know how to make space. How do I start? But I am always interested, and willing to help, “how can I know more of Jesus?” are the conversations I wish there were more of.
There is also a wealth of experience in this church probably in the person next to you, if we’d just have those conversations, learning to truly ‘bear one another’s burden’s’, and dare to mention the ‘J’ word.
Our nurture course have I hope helped people to grow in their life with Jesus, and in one of the modules participants are asked to become twitterati even if just for a few minutes.
In that they are invited to compose a tweet in 140 characters, because that’s how Twitter works, encouraging us to be concise saying why they follow JesusIt’s not easy but it’s worth doing, what would you write?
Last week I spoke about us being an open community, welcoming and learning from the stranger especially as we prepare for our Mission next weekend.
Perhaps this week as a bit of homework have a go and think about what you want to say about Jesus in those 140 characters. It might just come in handy next weekend, if someone asks, “so this Jesus, who is he for you?”
Mary ‘sat at the Lord’s feet and listened’.
May we make space in our lives to do the same and ‘grow in the knowledge of God.’